eighteen years of memories

Fifteen years ago today, almost to the hour that I started writing this, my mom died. I’ve written a number of posts that reference her in some way or another (some about her, some about me missing her), but what I realized in reading through these posts in the wee hours of the morning (which is why I’m still awake right now) is that I’ve never made an effort to document my favorite things about her and I think it’s time I did. So, if you didn’t know my mom (which is the vast majority of you), you might just want to skip this blog post because it’s really for me. Or you can read it. Either way.

I’m going to start with a disclaimer. My mother was amazing, but she wasn’t perfect. She had flaws and my childhood had some very hard moments. And when I say hard, I don’t mean parents getting divorced hard, I mean really, truly, terrifyingly hard. And part of that was due to some not so great choices my mom made.  Having said that, you mothers who fear that you are permanently jacking up your kids, don’t worry about it. You probably aren’t. And chances are, if you love them, and do your best to like them (two very different emotions), they’ll probably turn out okay and only need a little bit of therapy…which really, who doesn’t? And even though I only had 18 years with my mom, and even though some of those years were really hard, and even though she didn’t always make great choices, I still feel like I won the Mom Lottery.

My mom instilled a love of the outdoors in me. For a number of years, during two weeks each summer, she was a camp lifeguard. She volunteered as a counselor at Two Sentinels Girl Scout Camp. All of the counselors had nicknames that they went by during camp; hers was Jaws. And because she was a counselor, I got to start going to camp several years before I was actually a Girl Scout. Camping became part of my life. As I got older, I discovered how much I loved backpacking, too. And this all started with a mom who taught me by example. That said, don’t think she didn’t have her butane curling iron with her…my mother always had her hair done and her makeup on in public.

And this is the fun part about doing this…I had completely forgotten about my mom’s butane curling iron that could always be found in her purse, you know, just in case.

Oh, and in addition to the years of the butane curling iron, she always had a perm.

My mom was a CRAZY driver, and I kind of love that about her. Not because she lacked actual driving ability…she just had so many other things to do that she couldn’t be bothered to pay that much attention; like apply her mascara, curl her hair, suck on her unicorn lollipops. Which brings me to something that I always thought was weird, but always loved, too. My mom loved this one type of unicorn lollipop. To this day, any time I see one (like the other day at Dylan’s), I think of my mom and wonder if maybe it’s the type she would have liked.

Still on the driving note, one night, after picking my sister up from gymnastics (side note – my mom was unbelievably committed to all of our commitments), we were headed home and the three of us younger kids were fighting in the back seat of our white station wagon about who knows what. My mom missed a turn because she was yelling at us, and when she went to turn the car around, she ended up backing into a ditch…like, a canal type ditch. We were totally stuck. And the best part was the bumper sticker we had on that car: “If you don’t like the way I drive, stay off the sidewalk.” I’m sure the tow-truck driver got a good laugh out of that.

My mom loved flowers. I’m not sure if this came before or after she met her best friend, Sydne, who is an amazing florist. But she loved them. Gardenias in particular. When I was deciding not to get married and walking into the building where I would have the final conversation with the soon-to-be ex-fiance–the one that would require me to hand back my ring–I walked past a gardenia bush in full bloom. I picked one and held it in my hand as I tearfully ended my engagement. And it felt like my mom was there, with me. (Okay, so this memory isn’t so much about my mom, but whatever…I feel like she was part of it…plus this is my blog post, so whatever.)

Throughout my childhood, flowers were a part of life. I remember more than a few days when I just didn’t feel like going to school was going to be something I wanted to do, my mom would sometimes let me skip so I could go over to Sydne’s and help with whatever flower arranging was being done. (It’s no wonder that, to this day, I love getting flowers.) It was during these moments that I learned how to be a friend, both from my mom’s example, and from Sydne’s. I learned about unconditional love in friendships. And with all of her skills learned from Sydne, she was able to make the flower crowns all of the senior cheerleaders wore for the homecoming football game.

My mother was an amazing seamstress; a perfectionist really. My senior year in high school, I was looking for a dress for homecoming and it was down to the wire…one week left. Thankfully, I managed to find a black dress that I loved. As luck would have it, my best friend found the same dress on the same night. I was devastated. And it wasn’t like I could show up wearing the same dress Ashley was wearing, since we were going in the same group. My mother didn’t miss a beat. We hopped in the car and headed to the fabric store where we found a pattern and some beautiful black taffeta. In a week, she had sewn me a dress that I loved. Of course, in true Kim fashion, she was finishing the hand-sewn hem as my date walked up to the door (the dress was on me). To this day, that is my favorite dress that I’ve ever worn.

While I don’t have a digital photo of my homecoming dress, she made this one, and just about every other dress I wore before I turned 10.

My mom loved holidays. Loved. Them. Christmas was her favorite. And she insisted on having a flocked tree (seen below in the background). We also had a kids’ tree. It was a big deal when I was finally old enough to help decorate the “nice” tree. She taught me the order in which to put the decorations on the tree (lights, bows, ornaments) so that you ended with a perfectly and evenly decorated tree. And she made most of our ornaments. My favorite are these lovely ceramic ornaments that she hand painted of various Christmas scenes.

Please ignore the weird posing going on…that’s what 16-year-olds do.

Incidentally, my mom’s last Christmas was the Christmas of my freshman year of college. She had not been feeling well, but it was so important to her that we came home to a decorated house. She actually hired my friend Wendy (far right) to help her get everything done before my sister and I got home from college. The night before we got home, she’d been making sure everything looked perfect, so she lit all of the candles. Well, she forgot about one of them and ended up scorching a little ledge and baluster in our living room. Kind of a classic Kim thing to do.


She was also an amazing cook/baker. Back when I was in elementary school (pre lawsuits and childhood obesity) she would bake a huge batch of her delicious sugar cookies (someday Alicia and I will sell these in our bakery) for each of our birthdays and would bring them into school with frosting bags and tips for our classes to decorate. For all her flaws, my mother had the patience of a saint. My favorite things that she cooked/baked: bar-b-que chicken, beef stroganoff, English muffin pizzas (for all of you mothers out there with those favorite recipes locked away in your heads…please write them down somewhere or you might end up with kids who are so sad to not have them; the pizza sauce recipe is gone forever), frosted nut cookies, my favorite punch base, apricot chicken, and swiss cheese chicken. She was alway happy to have us in the kitchen.

She was my biggest cheerleader and my best critic. She taught me to be honest with myself and others. She taught me to accept the consequences of my choices. She taught me that things always work out and that I shouldn’t borrow trouble (something I still haven’t learned). She was generous with her time and her love. She taught me that trust and love should go hand in hand. She also taught me that swearing at your kids won’t permanently damage them…and can actually be kind of hilarious. And that you can still love someone even when you don’t like them very much at a given moment.

Okay, so the more I write, the more there is to write, but for now I will end with some of the snapshots of my mom that seem to be embedded in my mind. Snapshots of her out in our pool teaching swim lessons. Of her speeding down our court in the Party Van blasting Neil Diamond. Of her telling me to wake her up if my friends and I decided to go TP-ing in the middle of the night so she would know where we were. Of her excitement when I came home after cheerleading tryouts and I told her I made it because she knew how much I wanted it. Of her coaching my swim/basketball/soccer/softball teams over the years. Of her laughing. Of her voice. Of her playing with my oldest nephew, the only grandbaby she got to meet in this life. Of her eating frozen orange Kool-Aid and cocktail onions. Of her lying in a hospital bed. Of her sitting on the couch in the den, ready for me to come in a share whatever burden was weighing me down on any given day.  And finally, of her bending over her huge purse to look for something on the last day I saw her alive.

ETA: I am loving the little memories some of you are sharing! If you have a memory you want to share, please do!

love, toffee, and a giveaway

During the Christmas season, when I was a little girl, my mom would make batches and batches of caramel, fudge, toffee and other such treats to take to our neighbors and friends (sometimes these drop-offs actually included caroling, too). I remember the caramel being so mesmerizing as the bubbling sugars transformed to caramel when my mom added cream and vanilla. I loved licking (and still do) the spatula after my mom spread the melted chocolate over the toffee. And so on and so on. 

Eventually, I learned how to make all of these treats. In my teen years, toffee making became a source of income for me during the Christmas season. My mom’s best friend, Sydne, is an incredible florist who hosted a holiday boutique every year and she let me sell my toffee at it. Then, after I went off to college and my mom died, I kind of gave up on the toffee making. Every couple of years I’d make a batch at a sibling’s request, but other than that, it just wasn’t my thing.

Then last year, as Monica and I were trying to decide what to give some professors who were volunteering for an activity, and stay within our very limited budget, I suggested that we could make toffee. So, with Monica’s help the toffee making was on. I don’t remember how many batches we made, but I do remember learning that stirring the toffee as it was cooking was not only unnecessary, it actually didn’t help. (The hours and hours of stirring I wasted in my teenage years…) I also discovered my favorite kitchen tool ever, which is not a kitchen tool at all; a laser thermometer. I will never use a candy thermometer again. (Thank you to Justin and Cherity yet again for the fabulous birthday gift last year!)
Fast forward to this year. I decided that I would be making toffee for my coworkers. So, a couple of weeks ago, I did a test batch. I had to try out making toffee on my little stove with my pot in a different climate. As I said, execution can be a little tricky. It turned out great! Since then, I have made five batches with only one more to go. 
And here’s where the love comes in. Whenever I do anything that I learned from my mom, it reminds me how lucky I was to have her, even if it wasn’t for nearly long enough. And as strange as this may sound, I can feel how much she loved me whenever I’m doing anything that reminds me of her. She taught me so much in the short 18 years I got to have her around. 
While I’ve obviously learned a lot in the 15 years since she’s been gone, who I am today is a direct result of who she was. She didn’t just teach me how to cook. She taught me about generosity and thoughtfulness as we cooked treats for our neighbors and friends. She taught me love and patience, through her example, as she took the time to teach me how to do something that she could have done much faster on her own. And finally, she taught me that the only way to learn is to try and keep trying until you get it right. 
And now the giveaway. Leave a comment for a chance to win a bag of toffee to be sent directly to you from me (or a holiday mix cd should toffee not be your thing or should you be concerned about getting candy through the mail). The winner will be chosen on Sunday, so you’ve got some time…and I will use a random number generator to make sure that it’s fair. 

soccer inspired – attitude of gratitude ’10

  1. I am grateful for little girls who love playing soccer like I loved playing soccer and that I could watch two of my favorite little girls play today!
  2. I am grateful that I had a mom who gave up her entire Saturday every Saturday for years during soccer season and swim season so that she could coach our teams or cheer us on or both. She was the BEST!!!
  3. I am grateful for orange slices! I know that might sound weird, but there is nothing like orange slices at half-time during a soccer game (or at mile 20 of a marathon). I love orange slices!

letters

Once upon a time, I kept every letter and card I ever received. Ever. But then I realized that continuing that would be ridiculous. I couldn’t keep ALL of them. So, eventually, I went through them and got rid of anything not from a family member or that didn’t have some kind of significant meaning to me. Part of me considered just getting rid of everything, but the pack rat in me wouldn’t let that happen. These letters have been living in a box in storage for the past four years.

On Monday, I went through these letters…just to make sure I didn’t need to get rid of more of them. As I went through them, I came to the stack of letters I received while an exchange student in Belgium. I laughed at the letters I received from my sister telling me about this or that boy. The letters from my dad were typical of my dad. Short and to the point. With my dad, it’s what he does and not how he does it that shows how much he cares.

And then I came across the letters from my mom. With my now adult perspective, I read the letters with a new understanding. At the time she wrote them, I didn’t realize just how worried she was about me…over in Europe…at the age of 14…and TOTALLY homesick. Her letters were full of love and understanding and support. She didn’t chastise me for being homesick or being ungrateful for the amazing opportunity I was being given. Her letters were the equivalent of written hugs.

She’s been gone for over 14 years now and I’m used to not having her around, but that doesn’t mean I need her any less. For those of you who have lost a parent, or spouse, or sibling, or child…I’m sure you can relate to what I’m saying. I was just thinking the other day of how proud she would be of me and how much she would have loved to come visit me in New York and try all of the fabulous restaurants and see as many shows as she could. And while, just like with heading off to Europe, I know what an amazing opportunity I have to be moving to New York, I am also a little scared and a little sad.

I’m very excited about my job, but I’m also terrified. I went back to graduate school because I didn’t feel like I was pushing myself hard enough. Well…I will now be pushing myself hard enough. New York is such an exciting place, but I am leaving all of my family…my family who I absolutely adore…and I know, at times, even in such a huge city surrounded by so many people, I will feel very lonely. I am fortunate to be earning a good living, but I am also in A LOT of debt and New York is VERY expensive. Just a lot of things that are kind of scary and overwhelming. Add to that the stress of moving and going through boxes I haven’t seen in four years (I left a lot of stuff in storage when I moved here) and, well, this week has been a little rough.

Which is where the letters come in. At the end of one of the letters, my mom had written two of her favorite sayings. One of which we, as siblings, repeat to one another often. “It always works out.” This is so ingrained in me that I don’t ever question that things will work out. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t worry about the road from here to there. And that’s where one of her other favorite sayings comes in. “Don’t borrow trouble.”

It was exactly what I needed to hear as I am in the process of completely uprooting my life and going down this new road…and I got to hear it from the exactly who I should get to hear such advice from; my mom.

boston…in reverse ordered pictures

In case you were wondering, my life is still happening at an alarming rate. I had a fabulous 4th of July in Boston with Linda (pictured below) and Katie (need to get pictures from her since she wasn’t sailing with us). My first time seeing Neil–my mom’s favorite singer/songwriter of all time who deserves his own post–Diamond, sailing, and seeing the most amazing fireworks display of my life. I wish I’d had a tripod with me because my pictures don’t even come close to doing them justice.

On the Charles River…we had front row seats!



The farthest point of land in Massachusetts…from here, nothing but ocean until you hit the UK.
Another amazing lighthouse! I love the east coast!!!

Linda, and our skipper (her friend) Matt.
Random MIT students who signed up for this trip…Matt volunteers to take people out as an alum and certified (is that the right word) skipper, and in return he gets to use the boats for free.

The toe rail…an appropriate name really. And you can see that Linda and I both felt white pants were the proper attire for sailing in Boston Harbor on the 4th of July.


Lobster traps (crates?). Can you tell I wasn’t raised in New England?

Isn’t Boston gorgeous?!
Craig Ferguson…my oldest sister’s personal hero.
Neil.
Neil.
Neil.
And finally, Neil. I can still hear all of the songs he played in my head, along with several more. America, Sweet Caroline, Forever in Blue Jeans, Shiloh, You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, etc, etc. So many fabulous childhood memories tied up into one performer! It was…BRILLIANT!